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Feb 04, 2005

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


Circle the date March 19 racing fans. That"s the date of the first

 meeting between Rockport Harbor and Afleet Alex -- the two best

3-year-olds in the universe -- in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park

in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

You need to try to make it. If not, I will be your eyes and ears.

Both horses will be nominated to the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 19, but

 it"s death and taxes that neither will make it. Trainer Ritchey says

there"s no way Alex will make the race, and trainer Servis says

you can leave the door open a crack for Rocky for the Southwest -- "but only a crack".

Ritchey hasn"t even scheduled a first breeze for Alex, while Rocky

 will have his second breeze tomorrow, weather permitting. A smidgen

 of snow is in the forecast for southwest Arkansas.

Snow scares the folks down here. The first mention of snow in

Hot Springs and/or neighboring Little Rock, and a lot of folks head

 to LA (lower Arkansas).

Otherwise, folks down here were disappointed that the Razorbacks

 lost a one-point decision to Kentucky on national TV last Saturday.

The fact that Arkansas covered the 2 1/2 means nothing down here;

no one bets on Arkansas games here. It"s like sports betting doesn"t

 exist. Except on the Cowboys.

Speaking of Rockport Harbor, here"s a story you need to read...

When Rick Porter bought Rocky for $470,000 at the Keeneland September

 Sales in 2003, the underbidder -- at $460,000 -- was none other than

 Barry Schwartz. Yes, that Barry Schwartz. Calvin Klein. NYRA president.

 You know the guy.

Give or take a few mill, I"d have to say that Barry Schwartz, a poor

 kid from the Bronx, is worth $100 mill -- selling Calvin Klein and

all that you know.

So how could Barry lose out on Rockport Harbor, who will be the

 first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed, for a mere 10K.

That said, I rang him Saturday at his palatial spread in south Florida.

BS:: "Hello."

JP: "Hey, Barry. It"s John Piesen. I just called to talk horses."

BS: "John. You better make it fast. I have to make the double."

JP: "OK. Here goes. I"m finding out that you were the underbidder

 on Rockport Harbor. What gives? You run out of green?"

BS: "No. The colt was gorgeous. I loved the colt. I was prepared to

 spend more for this horse than I have ever in my life spent for a horse.

 But everyone has a limit. And when the bidding got to 470K that

was my limit. Hey, stuff happens."

Ironically, the last time I saw Barry was in the Aqueduct paddock for

 the Remsen, the race that Rockport Harbor won on three legs. At

the time, I didn"t realize that Barry almost -- and should have -- bought

 the horse. I thought he was just another Calvin Klein ex-president

looking to hit the late double.

You never know.

So this makes three bullets that John Servis has dodged regarding

 Rockport Harbor:

1) He was lucky to get Rocky in the first place at the sale. "Lucky, very

 lucky," he told me.

2) An inch or two higher, and the ankle wound that Rocky sustained in

 the Remson when he was stepped on by a Paragallo 50-1 shot, would

have been career-ending, and

3) In the last eight days, there has been a loose horse on the Oaklawn

track running the wrong way of the track directly at Rocky...only to miss him.

As we speak, Rocky is holding as the 7-1 favorite in the Vegas futures.

I know that"s a long way from the 100-1 he was back in October when I

recommended on these pages that you grab it, but it"s still a lot better

than the 6-5 he"ll be on Derby Day.

Time out. I"m watching the Beulah twins on TV while writing this

column, and my attention was diverted.

OK. Back to work.

There was an NBA game last weekend that I want to touch upon.

Last Friday night, after losing at home to Miami, the Atlanta Hawks

went right to the Atlanta airport for the trip to Memphis and a Saturday

 night date with the Grizzlies. They were trying to get out of Atlanta before

the predicted storm hit.

Instead, freezing rain and sleet delayed takeoff, and the Hawks spent

seven hours sitting on the tarmac in the team"s chartered jet. By

6 a.m., the players were told "no shot", and they checked into an Atlanta

 hotel for a nap. Finally, late Saturday, they made it to Memphis, about

 an hour before tip.

Vegas was obviously unaware of the Hawks" travel problems because

 the line never moved. The Grizzlies were -8 to -10.

So you know what happened. Atlanta -- which we all know stinks

anyway -- lost, 84-83, at the buzzer.

Finally, remember Tom Gamboa. He was the White Sox" first base coach

 who was assaulted on the field by father and son hoods back in 2002.

Well, Gamboa"s smiling face turns up today on the first sports page of the

 Little Rock paper as the new manager of the Arkansas Travelers, an

 Angels" farm club.



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